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Saintly Beginnings

The Saints turn 50

Quarterback Billy Kilmer and the New Orleans Saints on the field at Tulane Stadium, ca. 1970. While voters overwhelmingly approved funding to build the Superdome a week after the franchise announcement, construction didn’t begin until 1971. The Saints played at Tulane Stadium for eight seasons, waiting for the Superdome to be built. Opening day at the Superdome was August 3, 1975.

On November 1, 1966, New Orleans celebrated All Saints Day with the birth announcement of the New Orleans Saints, the National Football League’s 16th franchise.

Pete Rozell, NFL Commissioner, made the announcement in the Patio Room of the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Also present were local men that helped make the franchise possible: David Dixon, Representative Hale Boggs, Senator Russell Long, Gov. John McKeithen, Tulane President Dr. Herbert Longenecker and City Councilman Moon Landrieu, representing the mayor’s office.

John Mecom Jr., the 27-year-old son of a Texan oilman, bought the team for $8.5 million, becoming the youngest owner in NFL history. He selected the team colors: black and gold, a nod to his family oil business. The Louisiana Restaurant Association donated a St. Bernard puppy named Gumbo to be the team’s mascot; trumpeter (and part team owner) Al Hirt became the director of the band; and Tom Fears was hired as head coach.

While Mecom and the other owners were ultimately responsible for naming rights, the New Orleans States-Item held a naming contest for the public to give their opinion. There were 4,950 entries – Deltas, Ramparts, Mudbugs and Jazz Kings among them – but almost 10 percent were for “Saints.” Team owners officially named the team the New Orleans Saints on January 9, 1967.

When tickets first went on sale on March 8, 1967, fans camped out overnight at Lee Circle. Twenty thousand tickets were sold that day; season-ticket packages ranged from $8 to $64 for the eight-game home schedule.

The Saints first official game was played on September 17, 1967 against the Los Angeles Rams. John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown on the very first play, opening their first season in as an exciting way as possible. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. The Saints lost 13-27 and ended their first season 3-11. It took 10 years for the Saints to have a winning season.

 

 

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